Willie Mullins has been the trainer to follow at the Punchestown Festival recently but Tony Keenan wonders if his UK raids might leave him weakened at the last big National Hunt festival of the season...
"That could set the race up for God’s Own whose career-best at Aintree was lost in the backwash of Vautour’s fall. He travelled strongly through the race, looking like this trip would suit him better, and is a real spring type."
If you think Willie Mullins dominates the Cheltenham Festival, wait until you see Punchestown. Since 2008 - the first in his current run of successive trainer titles - he has had an amazing 88 winners here with the next best Jessica Harrington with 17 wins.
Punters who have backed his odds-on shots have done well; in the same period they've hit 22 wins from 32 bets for small level-stakes profit of 1.49 points.
But this year might be different as there is a huge complicating factor: the cost of Mullins trying to win the UK Trainers Championship. Whereas in the past the vast majority of his short-priced Punchestown runners came directly on from Cheltenham, all five of his projected odds-on shots - Yorkhill, Vautour, Douvan, Annie Power and Apple's Jade - ran at Liverpool too.
With running plans unclear, I'm going to concentrate on three races where the runners are already declared on Tuesday as well as one later in the week.
Tuesday's feature is the Champion Chase and Vautour looks as vulnerable as he's been all season. The drop in trip isn't much of a worry though he hasn't run over it since Christmas 2014; bigger concerns are his preference for left-handed tracks and his coming into the race off a fall. Most of all though he hasn't been the easiest to train and three runs within six weeks is a big ask; this hasn't been his meeting as he was below-par in 2014, albeit in victory, and didn't make the fixture last year.
It's easy to see a case for Special Tiara but his record in Ireland is a worry and, like the Champion Chase, he could get taken on up front; Vautour is likely to go forward over this trip. That could set the race up for God's Own whose career-best at Aintree was lost in the backwash of Vautour's fall. He travelled strongly through the race, looking like this trip would suit him better, and is a real spring type.
Yorkhill is another worth taking on in the Evening Herald Novice Hurdle. His Aintree performance was spectacular, albeit for the wrong reasons, and his trainer seemed keen to finish his season there. Yet here he is and it might be a race too far and Charbel, who represents the strong-looking Supreme form, is a sensible alternative with the tongue-tie seeming to have improved him.
The Growise Novice Chase is a much more open affair though most of the runners have holes in them. Outlander finds this trip stretching him and was below par last time while Henryville is very free and more effective over shorter. Rule The World's Grand National win is the best form on offer but this is a totally different test and Zabana, though likeable, is short enough for what he's achieved over fences.
Southfield Royale might be the most solid in the field. He is sure to stay and the National Hunt Chase form is strong; already it has thrown up a Grade 1 winner and Scottish National winner. He raced very wide that day and might have needed it too as it was his first run since Christmas while the drop back in trip is a plus.
Vroum Vroum Mag is one Mullins horse that didn't go to Aintree though she did make the journey to Sandown on Saturday before being taken out in controversial fashion. Provided she is over her travels, she rates a confident selection in the Champion Stayers Hurdle.
Alpha Des Obeaux has the best form on offer but it is hard to see him being any better than Cheltenham with how Mouse Morris peaks his runners for that meeting and there looked to be little depth behind Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle. Furthermore, he places a lot more often than he wins. The mares allowance puts Vroum Vroum Mag close to him in form terms but more importantly she's one with significant upside.
Back God's Own at 11.010/1 in the Champion Chase
Back Charbel at 9.08/1 in the Evening Herald Novice Hurdle
Back Southfield Royale @ 10.09/1 in the Growise Novice Chase
Back Vroum Vroum Mag @ 3.02/1 in the Champion Stayers Hurdle